Poetry Analysis--need second opinion

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Discus: SAT/ACT Tests and Test Preparation: June 2004 Archive: Poetry Analysis--need second opinion
By Phantom (Phantom) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 08:22 pm: Edit

I just got back the scores for my English final and I got a shockingly low score. Why? My teacher had given me NO points on an analysis of the following poem. The teacher, by the way, is being fired this year (she was new to begin with) and I am deciding if I should protest this with another English teacher or if I'm really actually wrong. That's why I would like a second opinion.

Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

I talked about the chaos of war, and how Tennyson used the method of repetition (Cannon to the right..left") to enhance this chaotic atmosphere. Unfortunately, I interpreted the last stanza and the general tone of the poem as sarcasm.

I said that the soldiers were riding into a hopeless battle (Death/Hell word imagery). I said that such a foolish action in which the soldiers really had no idea what they were doing or why they were doing it (the decision was a blunder), was not glory. It may have been brave, I said, but it should not be glorified.

I thought that the "When can their glory fade?" question actually mocked the idea of glory in war as most people viewed it. Then I found out that Tennyson actually really supported war glory...

I think that I thought the poem's tone was sarcastic because we had to compare it with Dulce et Decorum Est (which was very anti-idea of glory in war) and so I was in that train of mind. I see now why I was wrong, but shouldn't I get at least some credit for talking about the chaos of war and pointing out the method of repetition? I may be grasping at straws here, but this really brought down my final average and I worked so hard all year.


By Crypto86 (Crypto86) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 08:41 pm: Edit

Well obviously I can't analyze your actually essay, but I think you missed a lot of stuff in the poem. There are much better examples for repeition in the poem than just the "cannon" lines. There is excessive consonance throughout the poem - the most I have ever seen in one poem. And it is really evident too, because it is end rhyme consonance rather than inner rhyme consonance.

Overall, the poem is about the story of an army who endure a fierce battle, some of whom do not make it back alive. I think you overextended your thought that the "soldiers were riding into a hopeless battle". I think the Death part just portrays that the battle will be fierce, but obviously not hopeless. Never in the poem is there the mentioning that this is a David vs. Goliath battle, and that the army is David. If anything, the poem portrays the army as victorious. Even as you stated, there was a "blunder", but overall the army survived (mostly).

I think that Tennyson is indeed congratulating the soldiers that did make it out alive. There are cannons all around the soldiers, a blunder has been made, they are fighting in the valley of Death, "Storm'd at with shot and shell", and yet some of the soldiers still "Came thro' the jaws of Death/Back from the mouth of Hell".

I think when your teacher said compare that you interpreted that the poems are exactly the same in tone. While both poems portray war as horrible and bloody, the ultimate feelings of the speaker are different - in Tennyson's poem, the speaker is almost in awe of how someone could be so strong to manage such a feat of war (kind of avoiding the whole pro-war/anti-war thing in of itself), whereas the speaker in Dulce Et Decorum Est states that the horrors of war are not worth it.

Should you get zero points - absolutely not. But I think you missed some crucial points in the poem and that you misinterpreted the task of comparing the poems.

By Phantom (Phantom) on Wednesday, June 23, 2004 - 12:06 am: Edit

hmm, okay, fair enough.

I dunno why I immediately took the poem to mean what I thought it meant. I guess that reading Dulce et Decorum first and the word "compare" definitely led to my rigid mentality. I just felt that the poem was worded in a very mechanical way--not only just repetition but also the similar sentence structures in each line. Their whole struggle just seemed pointless. Words such as "wild charge," "blunder," "Death/Hell" just jumped out at me. But now I also see "bold," "hero," "fought so well," etc.

When I was reading it, I was reminded of the Red Badge of Courage a bit. "Their's not to make reply / Their's not to reason why / Their's but to do and die:" Just that no soldier really understands what's going on and it's just "fight, fight, fight, do whatever they tell you to." Of course, now I realize that that's what Tennyson commended--their unquestioning loyalty to their country.

Although I did talk a lot about the hopelessness of the battle in my above post, my analysis was concentrated on the public's perception of glory and how they defined it (I'm not sure if that was clear from my earlier post). I was trying to say that the charge by the 600 men into what seems to be a huge army of thousands did not necessarily equate to glory and victory but that it is seen as such because of the huge sacrifice.

Despite what you said, I still get the impression that it WAS a David v. Goliath type of situation. (It was a small troop/infantry (right word?) "charging an army..."). I also got the impression that most people died ("All that was left of them, Left of six hundred"--dunno, just seems to imply how small the number of survivors were, out of 600).

So anyway, thanks Crypto--I'll bear what you say in mind when I try to argue my case (yes, I'll try anyway because I'm very upset at my English grade). I did miss many key points, and I won't go crazy with my argument.

By Somecanadianguy (Somecanadianguy) on Wednesday, June 23, 2004 - 01:00 am: Edit

heh, I had to analyse that exact same poem this year, but I was a small presentation (2 min maybe) with two of us working together
Anyway, the poem is supposed to be about a battle during the Crymean War, according to my English teacher. What we got out of it was the valor and we focussed on the idea that you're at your best when your backs are at the war and there is no hope for a victory, so they fought to do whatever they could for those who would follow them in the fight. Can't really remember much else (it was like 7 or 8 months ago) and that wasn't exactly what you were looking for.
Based on what you'd said I don't think it was fair for you to get a 0 on that part, but then again how much was that particular part worth, cuz a few marks on a final shouldnt really mean that much, unless this was most of you final in which case its ridiculous to give someone 0 even if the thinkg wasn't that good, if you brought up some points that were valid to a degree and presently coherently, it should be at least 50 or 60

By Justice (Justice) on Wednesday, June 23, 2004 - 06:14 pm: Edit

You shouldn't have gotten a 0 because I think 0s should be reserved for blank-sheet or off-topic entries, but I wouldn't bother to contest the grade seeing as how the point of your argument (that what they did was not glory) ran entirely opposite to the object of Tennyson's admiration.

By Phantom (Phantom) on Wednesday, June 23, 2004 - 06:33 pm: Edit

Yeah, I'm a bit abashed about that now. I'm sorry Lord Tennyson!

However, can you see where I'm coming from, or do you think that my views were too far-fetched? The essay was out of 20 (1/5 of the test) and all I need are 5 points. Is that too much to ask? (That was not a rhetorical question--is it really too much to ask?)

EDIT: I guess I'm asking if you think I have valid examples to support my take on the poem. I know that I was very truly wrong about what the poem was trying to say, but do the examples I give above make sense?

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